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A very private gentleman by Martin Booth

A very private gentleman (original 1990; edition 2004)

by Martin Booth

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2231776,097 (3.88)30
Title:A very private gentleman
Authors:Martin Booth
Info:New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2004. 274 p. ; 22 cm
Collections:Your library

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A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth (1990)



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I want to be kind, for the author's sake, but George Clooney in the film adaptation aside, this novel is one honking cliche of a male fantasy - and nothing even happens until the final few pages (I'd say last chapter, but breaking up such a dedicated stream of bollocks would be expecting too much).

Unnamed Narrator bangs on about not giving away too many clues about himself and his location, or he'd have to kill you, then adds 'I am not an assassin. I have never killed a man by pulling a trigger and taking a pay-off. I wonder if you thought I had. If this is so, then you are wrong'. Well, shit, why I am reading this very boring book about an ageing gunsmith, then? All he does is potter around the Italian countryside, where he is planning on 'retiring' to after one last job, drinking wine, talking to priests, and shagging young girls (he goes into copious details about his menage-a-trois with two local dolly birds who are regulars at a bordello but are really hard-working students, honest guv'nor). Like James Bond crossed with A Year In Provence, I kept expecting sudden violence, or at least a bit of drama, but no. Unnamed Narrator spouts sexist twaddle about a female assassin - ooh, such a big gun for a pretty girl with perfect breasts, etc - and gets stalked by someone out to do him in. I saw the twist coming a mile off, but even that failed to drive the plot. The film might be better, but I've just developed an allergic reaction to the story, so I can't be bothered finding out. Pure tosh. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | May 3, 2018 |
This was made into a movie last year that was called The American and starred George Clooney. The interesting thing is that the book is very different from the movie. It is written from the first person account of the main character and is a pretty fast read. You are always wondering exactly what it is the main character does but Booth paints a picture that is incomplete and allows your mind to wander and fill in the blanks on your own. I liked that. ( )
  joefreiburger | Jul 3, 2016 |
Very well written, the description of the small Italian villages made me want to get on a place to Italy. The entire novel is like walking a mine field, you'll spend it waiting for Mr. Butterfly's past to catch up to him.

( )
  LJMax | Aug 21, 2015 |
The American was a different kind of read for me - but quite interesting. Mr. Butterfly as he is known, is a very private man, living in a small town in Italy he is known to paint butterflies. He is secretive in his real work, he is not an assassin (at least not so he tells us), drug smuggler or bank robber. He is however, a wanted man by the authorities and his true identity is not even revealed to the reader, as we may not be trustworthy enough with that information. He is constant in watching for the shadow dwellers, persons who may hold a vendetta on him, for the work that he does. He favors the local bordello and has a soft spot for a young college woman who is a working girl and very much in love with him. Maybe he will settle down here, where the local priest is his friend, where the locals all seem to respect his privacy and welcome him as one of their own. Maybe he will even allow himself to admit that he loves Clara..or... Maybe his profession will catch up with him and his secret artwork be the death of him.... these questions continue to enter your mind as the story unfolds to an ending that was not quite expected with mixed emotions. Great Story! ( )
  booklovers2 | Mar 11, 2015 |
Anyone who has seen The American with George Clooney will not recognize this book. The opposite is also true. They are very different. The book is literate; the movie is entertaining (unless you like car crashes and piles of bodies dripping gore in which case you will be bored -- I was not.)​​​​​​

The man’s character and occupation are revealed in bits and pieces, slowly, almost like creating a mosaic or jigsaw, although, as he repeatedly states, much of it may be untrue in order to hide his location and identity. “I have hidden in the crowds all my life. Another face, as anonymous as a sparrow, as indistinguishable from the next man as a pebble on a beach. I may be standing next to you at the airport check-in, at the bus-stop, in the supermarket queue. I may be the old man sleeping rough under the railway bridge of any European city. I may be the old buffer propping up the bar in a rural English pub. I may be the pompous old bastard driving an open Roller — a white Corniche, say —."

The protagonist meditates on killing, that he is a part of history through his actions, that killing itself is essentially meaningless, since death is something that happens to all of us. “Death is but a part of a process, inescapable and irrevocable. We live and we die. Once born, these are the only certainties, the only inevitabilities. The only true variable is the timing of the event of death. It is as pointless to fear death as it is to fear life. We are presented with the facts of both and have to accept them. There is no Faustian avoidance on offer. All we can do is attempt to delay or accelerate the approach of death. Men strive to postpone it.” How the killing is accomplished is important: surgically, quickly. “. . .for death can always be justified. It was the mutilation that was wrong. They should have been satisfied with the end of their enemy. It is not a matter of aesthetics or moralities, of political expediency or humanity. It is simply a waste of time. The dead feel nothing. For them, it is over. For the killers, there is nothing.” “History is nothing unless you can actively shape it. Few men are afforded such an opportunity. Oppenheimer was lucky. He invented the atom bomb. Christ was lucky. He invented a religion. Mohammed was just as fortunate. He invented another religion. Karl Marx was lucky. He invented an anti-religion”

Assassins are essential, he muses, “society would stagnate. There would be no change save through the gradations of politics and the ballot box. That is most unsatisfactory. The ballot box, the politician, the system can be corrupted. The bullet cannot. It is true to its belief, to its aim and it cannot be misinterpreted. The bullet speaks with firm authority, the ballot box merely whispers platitudes or compromise. . . .There is more gross profanity in one corner of the political world than in the whole of the red-light areas of Naples, Amsterdam and Hamburg all rolled into one.” “For what is hell if it is not the modern world, crumbling into dissolution, polluted by sins against the people and the earth mother, twisted by the whims of politicians and soured by the incantations of hypocrites. I drove away in a hurry.”

And yet, he is not the killer; he only supplies the means. “As I care little for death, it follows I care not that I create it for others. I am not an assassin. I have never killed a man by pulling a trigger and taking a pay-off. I wonder if you thought I had. If this is so, then you are wrong. My job is the gift-wrapping of death. . . . “ Has he contrition or committed sins requiring forgiveness? “ “I have told untruths. I have been economical with the truth in the very best traditions of those who govern us. These lies of mine have never done harm, have always protected me at no expense to others and are, therefore, not sins. If they are such, and there is a god, I shall be prepared to answer my case in person when we meet. I shall take a good book to read — say War and Peace or Gone With the Wind or Doctor Zhivago — for the queue for this category of sinner will be very long and, knowing the arrogance of the Christian church, will be headed by cardinals, bishops, papal nuncios and not a few Popes themselves.”

Many lovely phrases. One I particularly liked: “Bats do not so much fly as flicker-splash in neurasthenic parabolæ.” Another: “ Here, rain is an Italian man who does not kiss hands and fawn like a Frenchman, or bow discreetly like an Englishman, keeping sex at bay, or get brazen like an American sailor on shore leave. Here, the rain is passionate. It does not fall in sheets like the tropic downpour or drizzle miserably like an English complaint, snivelling like a man with a blocked nose. It slants down in spears, iron rods of grey water which strike the earth and pockmark the dust, spread out like damp stars upon the dry cobblestones of the streets and the flagstones of the Piazza del Duomo. The earth, far from succumbing to the assault, rejoices in it. After a brief shower, one can hear the earth click and pop as it sucks its drink.”

Part meditation on life, happiness, society, individual worth, personal satisfaction, I very much enjoyed this book, a thriller, but not in the traditional sense of providing a thrill, but rather providing intense sensations. As Farfella himself says, “In a book, Salome can seduce me, I can fall in love with Marie Duplessis, have my own Lady of the Camellias, a private Monroe or exclusive Cleopatra. In a book I can rob a bank, spy on the enemy, kill a man. Kill any number of men. No, not that. One man at a time is enough for me. It always was. And I do not always seek experience second-hand.” Exactly. ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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High in these mountains, the Apennines, the spinal cord of Italy, with its vertebrae of infant stone to which the tendons and the flesh of the Old World are attached, there is a small cave high up a precipice.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312309090, Paperback)


The locals in the Italian village where he lives call him Signor Farfalla--Mr. Butterfly--for he appears to be a discreet gentleman who paints rare butterflies. But as inconspicuous as Farfalla tries to make himself, his real profession is deadly, unbeknownst to the sometime brothel worker, Clara, with whom he sleeps.

Of a certain age, and as his feelings for Clara intensify, Farfalla has resolved to make his next job his last--all the while sensing a treacherous circle closing in on him.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:16 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The locals in the Italian village where he lives call him Signor Farfalla--Mr. Butterfly--for he appears to be a discreet gentleman who paints rare butterflies. But as inconspicuous as Farfalla tries to make himself, his real profession is deadly. Farfalla has resolved to make his next job his last--all the while sensing a treacherous circle closing in on him.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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